Simmering tensions exploded Wednesday night between Atlanta city officials and representatives of the neighborhoods surrounding the proposed new Atlanta Falcons stadium.
For months, the two parties have worked to develop a plan to divvy up millions in community redevelopment money. The process must be completed before $200 million in city funds can be channeled to the team to help build the new stadium.
The meeting, held at Atlanta City Hall, began as many had in the past, with leaders from the various stadium neighborhoods, including English Avenue and Vine City, frustrated over the prospect of ending the process merely with a “plan” of recommendations, rather than a legally-binding “agreement.”
“The mayor came and visited us at a meeting and said that we’d develop a plan and from that we would go to an agreement… that’s my question. When do we get to an agreement?” asked committee member Dexter Johnson, a Vine City pastor.
As in previous meetings, city officials stressed that a binding agreement would be discussed only after the committee agreed on a plan.
The meeting took a highly contentious turn when Councilman Michael Julian Bond, the chair of the committee, mentioned the plan they had been working on for months was already making its way through City Council. Bond personally sponsored the legislation at Monday’s full Council meeting and now said final approval was out of the committee’s hands.
“It is not before us properly any longer,” said Bond. “We can no longer amend this document because it is before City Council now.”
Neighborhood leaders were stunned.
“How could a document move from this committee without the committee having any knowledge of the fact it was moving,” said Yvonne Jones, a committee member who heads the neighborhood planning unit representing Vine City and English Avenue.
About 50 onlookers, mostly residents from the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium, erupted in anger, directing chants of “shame” at Bond and other committee members representing the city.
“There ain’t no way in the world this should go down like this,” said Jones.
Over shouts from the crowd, Mayor Kasim Reed’s representative on the committee, Katrina Taylor-Parks, explained the legislation submitted to Council was a mere “placeholder” in case the committee finalized the benefits plan in the next week. That way, she said, the City Council could vote on it Dec. 2, its last meeting before holiday break.
“This was all about process. That is it,” Taylor-Parks insisted.
She batted back claims it was an end-run around the committee. She said submitting the placeholder legislation to Council was discussed at last week’s committee meeting.
“We came back to our last meeting and talked about it at this table and said we were going to put forth a draft. We did discuss it. If no one listened, I apologize, but it was said,” explained Taylor Parks.
Jones and other neighborhood representatives said they had no clue such action was being taken.
“There was nothing that was sent to us via email. There was no phone. There was no communication to let the committee members know it was moving in that direction,” said Jones.
A clearly agitated Taylor-Parks said the city was already doing much to accommodate committee members.
“We were expecting to talk about it tonight. If anyone else has read the [committee’s enabling] legislation, it is clear, number one, that this body does not even have a vote,” said Taylor Parks.
“Why didn’t you tell us,” interjected committee member Demarcus Peters.
“You can read. We’ve said this all along,” said Taylor-Parks.
“Your tone is disrespectful to the community,” said Peters.
Since committee meetings kicked off this summer, neighborhood leaders have expressed deep distrust of city officials, due in large part to unfulfilled promises of community revitalization related to building the Georgia Dome in the 1990s.
Committee member Howard Beckham, who represents the Vine City and English Avenue Ministerial Alliance, said Bond’s procedural move was further confirmation that the city couldn’t be trusted.
“You wonder why we want an agreement? Because we don’t trust you! And you proved yourself untrustworthy tonight!” said Beckham.
Council President Ceasar Mitchell, who has attended some of the committee meetings over the last few months, said the city’s actions were inexcusable.
“What I have just heard is the most twisted thing I’ve ever heard in my 12 years of being on this Council,” said Mitchell. “The word bamboozled comes to mind.”
He railed against the procedural move and eventually stormed out of the room.
Bond defended himself and said due to his absence at last week’s meeting he was under the assumption, through Taylor-Parks, the committee’s work was nearly done and the procedural move was necessary to get a plan finalized by the end of the year.
“If I owe anyone an apology and people didn’t know, I apologize because I assumed and I believe Ms. Taylor Parks. I know her character and I believe what she told me and I believe it was mentioned at [last week’s] meeting as was stated,” said Bond.
Ivory Young, a committee member and city councilman who represents several neighborhoods surrounding the proposed stadium, vowed to halt any Council action until the committee approved a final plan.
Ultimately, neighborhood leaders on the committee spearheaded a motion to hold off finalizing the community benefits plan, which they argue is still far too vague to be approved.
Bond proceeded to call another meeting for Monday at 5:30 p.m. in hopes of finalizing the plan.
Meanwhile, a City Council committee is scheduled to consider Bond’s community benefits legislation Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., and possibly send it to full Council for approval.
After the meeting, a disturbed Bond said the process needs to draw to a close.
“We’re going to put standards in place so that people can’t mess up this money anymore. Almost every person that was engaged in the shouting and the disruption has had a loan or grant from some city organization and they’ve all defaulted. And so now they want people to come back and give them more money? Trying to get a hand out? It’s not going to happen on my watch,” said Bond.
He singled out Council President Mitchell for inciting much of the disruption.
“He’s raising false expectations. I’m personally deeply dissatisfied with his conduct and I was quite frankly embarrassed by it. I was born and raised in Vine City and for him to come into the community and disrupt it on such important issues is outrageous. He has no credibility with me and only has credibility with the scoundrels in that community.”
For more information on the community benefits committee and plan, click here.